The London Dead

part 1

Five hundred generations of souls lie beneath the asphalt this close to the Thames, compacted down over the centuries into psychic anthracite. Now there’s a lot of potential there – potential energy, I mean, stored in obscure bonds within a matrix of disincarnate and impersonal memory. Race memory of races no history tells of, either pre-dating the Romans and their blasphemous practice of capturing spoken words with written signs, or else comprising some nameless, faceless tribe that coallesced from the human flotsam washed up here from the proverbial four corners before dissipating a century or two later as unheralded as it appeared. In short, a rich deposit of fossil fuels lurking dormant but potent under the brick, pavement, road and lawn, awaiting only the oxygen of living organic minds and the spark of thoughts or emotions to initiate combustion.

For a taster of a physical signature of this vast roster of bygone humanity, visit the London Aquarium on the south bank and look out for what is ostensibly one of the less captivating exhibits. It’s a cabinet showing a small selection of the diverse man-made detritus beachcombed from the shores of the lower Thames estuary; prehistoric tools fashioned from elk antler, Roman coins and pottery, mediaeval timber fragments, 18th-century tobacco pipes, Pepsi cans from the ’80s, the empty hull of a first-generation iPod. The residue of people who are gone and forgotten, but never really went anywhere at all, and are only ‘forgotten’ in the narrow, living sense of the word. Because patterns of activity and arrangement never disappear entirely, but are translated into forms too subtle for the living, with their preoccupation with activity and business and noise, to distinguish from the happenstance of purely stochastic processes. Yet those patterns are still there, implicit and invisible to all but the most sensitive, to those with the ability to tune out the overlying psychic noise of mundane incarnate life.

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